The Tooner Phenomena

Now I am sure this is going to ruffle some feathers and some might even dust off their pitchforks — so be it. It has to be said — living and breathing cars, modifications and tunes day in and day out you see some outrageous things come your way. I am going to break it down into two simple categories — food for thought and enthusiast beware.

The Expert Tooner

This is the guy that has a shop or works for a shop — they have a dyno and you would think they would know how to use it. In fact, some of them do know how to use it very well, and the break down begins with the fact they understand very little, if nothing at all, about EFI tuning and/or the engine management software they are using. Hell, they might even be working at a shop that has a stellar reputation!

They are able to post up amazing numbers on said dyno, but the vehicle will just run terrible either the moment it leaves, or a couple days later. When the car comes back to them — they cannot figure out the source of the problem and will at times chase mechanical gremlins that do not exist.

One prime example of this is a customer with a 2012-2015 Civic Si — said customer had some work done at his location and the vehicle posted up absurd power figures on pump gas (93 octane) — nearly 500hp. Anyone who has any experience with that platform will raise an eyebrow — maybe it’s possible? Highly unlikely with how knock prone those motors are. But hey, the customer was initially quite happy with the numbers — and then the bad news. After a couple of days the car would be completely gutless, and any attempts to have that behavior remedied kept failing.

He finally got a hold of me and we went over what was going on — turns out he was an existing customer of mine that had a tune for his car whnegative_timingen it just had bolt ons. After reviewing his turbo datalogs, it turns out it was running 17-18psi of boost and -2 to -6 degrees of timing (yes, NEGATIVE). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out this does NOT make power. In fact — it makes about a whopping 200 horsepower with all that boost, not anywhere NEAR the claimed dyno figures.

And yet it continues to get worse — part throttle closed loop feedback was disabled, the primary O2 sensor completely disabled, VTEC point untuned, VTC mapping completely untouched. No excuse for any of these items to be the way they were — so where was the break down? Upon inspection of the actual calibration — the tune file was basically nothing more than the calibration for his vehicle with simple bolt on parts. Quite literally the injector scalar (how big the fuel injector is) was adjusted and the fuel map was roughly skewed upwards in boost — nothing else in the calibration was setup anywhere close to how a turbo calibration should be done to get a reliably running vehicle. You read that right — he was running MY N/A tune on his car with a turbo. You can imagine how well that works.

So how did it make power on the dyno? Quite simply — with every flash of the ECU its “learned” parameters were reset and under boost the motor was seeing effectively naturally aspirated ignition timing. Wait, won’t this cause detonation? Absolutely — this platform does not have active knock feedback logic, only having a very slowly learned correction (which works poorly on modified vehicles to begin with) and the motor will definitely make power.

So the sum of his “expert” tune was nothing more than a couple of hits on the dyno with a calibration that was ripped (stolen) off the FlashPro when the vehicle came in for work to be done.

But a couple days later — the ECU goes limp mode to protect the engine. In this case — the owner of the vehicle was very lucky. We dialed the boost back to 11-12psi and tuned the car properly and it hasn’t had a problem ever since.

The Noob Tooner

You know who I am talking about here — they are all over social media and online forums. They will make you promises and whisper sweet nothings via private messaging systems to get your attention and make your wallet a little bit lighter. I have seen examples of them even claiming:

  • Tune just like “so-so” (enter tuner name here) for the same amount of $$$.
  • It’ll be just as good or better than “so-so”.
  • “So-so” is terrible and they’re better.

What skills, experience and accomplishments do they actually have? Well it’s quite simple:

  • They purchased a laptop.
  • Downloaded some free software.
  • And in many cases: stole a base file they are now using as their “source of truth”.

Yup — that’s right: all it takes to claim to be a tuner extraordinaire on the internet is a laptop and the ability to transform drivel that would normally flow through their lips into text via their fingers rapidly clacking away at their laptop keyboard.

Even better — in many cases they’ve even purchased a tune for their own vehicle from an established tuner. This has happened so many times I have lost count — I am more than happy to share examples with the reader privately.

But you bet they will be all over the internet trying to snag their next victim — sometimes advertising their services, sometimes trying to stay under the radar and snag their victims via the amazing stories they like to tell via private message.

And at the end of the day — they have little to no experience (you will see stuff like “I tuned my car”, “I tuned all my friends”) and no accomplishments of any kind. Of course they will claim that they “have to start somewhere”. Anyone sign their vehicle up as R&D when they paid for a tuning service?

Amazingly enough — they will always have someone “vouch” for them and their “skills”.

So What?

This is a vicious cycle — I’ve seen it so much that I just shrug and let our business and our work speak for itself.

But be warned — the tooners of the world will throw timeslips, dyno sheets and vouches at you all day long and in their minds it gives them completely credibility. Sure — going fast and big numbers are fun, but it paints a very poor picture of any experience or ability to tune a car properly to do anything beyond that. When you have a vehicle you need to drive day in and day out, there is a lot more that goes into setting up a tune than dyno numbers and time slips.

The goal is to hopefully share some insight with the reader and maybe prevent another case of Tooner Attacks. Ultimately it is up to every enthusiast to do their own research — and I encourage you all to do so.

Tested: Full Race Catless Downpipe for 2012+ Civic Si

A frequent question that gets asked is “What downpipe makes power on my 9th gen?” I have gotten in the habit of simply directing people to Full Race Motorsport’s website as we use their catless downpipe & exhaust on our supercharged vehicle, and I know the setup makes power.

Now here’s empirical evidence that it does.

Philippe was down at the shop and had us install the Full Race catless downpipe before I tuned his 2012 Civic Si. The vehicle came in with the following modifications on it already:

  • Invidia Q300 Exhaust
  • HPS Intake Hose
  • K&N Drop in Filter

Now from previous baselines of completely stock 2012 Si’s, I know they do about 160-164whp on our shop Dynapack. Before we installed the downpipe we baselined the car as it arrived. Sure enough, it did about 162whp with the power curve I’m used to seeing on a stock 2012 Si. This leads me to make the following conclusions:

  • The HPS intake hose and K&N drop in filter do absolutely nothing. Pretty pointless modifications and honestly a rip off (spend your money elsewhere).
  • The Invidia Q300 is a nice sounding exhaust, as always, but does not make any power, at least not without a tune. Maybe this will change with a tune?

We installed the catless downpipe, and put the car back on the Dynapack and randp_vs_nodp a couple more baseline pulls on the stock tune. The results are as follows — solid line is with the downpipe installed, dashed is before the downpipe.

We netted as much as +10whp and +10wtq from simply installing the downpipe. That’s a sizable gain for a simple modification.

tuned_dpNow let’s throw a good tune on the car… and the results are as follows. Solid line is fully tuned, dashed line is our baseline with the downpipe installed. The tune netted as much as +12wtq in spots and as much as +18whp on the top end.

dp_tuned_vs_nodpWhat’s this look like over the original baseline before the downpipe was installed? Here you go. Netting almost +30whp in spots with a downpipe and tune on the top end. Sizable gains, the part worked well and the tune brought it all together.

How does the exhaust factor into the power curve? Until I do a fair comparison of an exhaust swap on the car I can’t say with absolute certainty. However, we do know what other parts do make power already — A CAI nets 4-5whp, which would put this car around ~190whp, which is about 3-4hp shy of what the average 2012 Si maxes out with using bolt ons on this Dynapack dyno. So to make an educated deduction — an exhaust may net 3-4hp and maybe some mid range torque due to the ability to adjust the variable valve timing on the motor. It also seems that a 3″ exhaust would be the way to net any power at all, and anything smaller may not net any gains. With the integrated exhaust manifold design on the 9th gen cylinder head, the gains we’re used to seeing with a 3″ exhaust on previous K series engines don’t really hold true on the K24Z7.

Safe to say — if you want PROVEN performance, a good catless downpipe (Full Race works well as I’ve shown) and a good tune will get you 95% of what you’re going to get N/A with bolt ons. A cold air intake will net some power as well — and the exhaust is a wash at this point it seems.